The dire need for a break on the trail:
How many times have you gotten all packed up, signalled to all of your friends that you’re ready to go, and then taken off at the speed of a meteor only to realize 10sec into the ride that you forgot to zip your jacket up over your neck. Now you are stuck with a pea sized, jet powered, stream of cold air directed at your Adam’’s apple. You have 2 choices. Choice 1: Suck it up, and ride until your group decides to take their first stop. In making this decision, you compare your comfort level to enduring Chinese Water Torture, all while risking frost bite. Choice 2: You pull off the side of the trail to fix your jacket, and lets be real, that leads to fixing your balaclava, which leads to fixing your googles, which leads to fixing your helmet! Now you’re ready. Oh wait, now you have to put your gloves back on, and fix your jacket sleeves. Okay. Now you are ready. Just before you take off, you turn and signal the buddies behind you with a thumbs up. They give you a thumbs up and as you turn around to face the trail, you see the three buddies who were in front of you riding back towards you. In the time it took you to finish adjusting your gear, they noticed you were gone, waited a minute, and when they didn't see you coming, assumed you had already blown a corner in the first couple minutes of the ride. Due to their concerns they performed a 6 point turn each, on the straightest part of the trail they could find (it was still close to a corner) and turned around to come to your aid. To make matters worse, after you explained you just needed to adjust your gear, they had to ride another 5min in the opposite direction just to find somewhere to turn around and come back to meet you. Before they arrive back at your location, another group passes you. Your group is finally reunited and you’re ready to ride. You all take off together for the second time today and it’s finally feeling like everyone is ready to pick up speed and have a fun day on the trails! Next thing you know, you catch up to the group who passed you. They’re doing 20km/h.
This may seem a little dramatized but let me tell you, I have experienced this exact situation multiple times! Even if your gear is perfect, replace “you forgot to zip your jacket up over your neck” with “you realize you need to pee” and “a pea sized, jet powered, stream of cold air directed at your Adam's apple” with “a pea sized, jet powered stream of bodily fluid about to emerge from your bladder”. Maybe you’ve never peed your pants on the trail, but don’t act like you haven’t thought about it, we’ve all been there.
On a more serious note, if you’re an avid snowmobiler, I don’t need to explain how annoying and dangerous the situation is that I’ve just laid out. If you aren’t a snowmobiler or you’re new to the sport, I hope I was able to convey just how annoying and unsafe the above story can be through my writing. It’s time that we, as riders, address the safety issues that come with the lack of communication on the trail. I am going to walk you through some easy, simple solutions, as well as some more expensive and technical solutions to help all riders improve their communication on the trails. Let’s do our part to ensure safe riding and the progression of our sport.
Over the years, snowmobilers have come up with various methods to communicate with each other on the trails. In this article, we'll compare some popular solutions like hand signals, communicators, Polaris Ride Command, and HEDS UP. We'll weigh the pros and cons to determine the best solution for effectively communicating while snowmobiling.
First, let’s talk about Hand Signals.
House-keeping: Using Hand Signals consists of holding up the number of fingers as it relates to the number of riders behind you. For example, if a snowmobile is oncoming, and I had 2 riders from my group behind me, I would hold up 2 fingers for the oncoming rider to see. This tells the oncoming riders that 2 more sleds will be following behind me shortly.
Hand signals have been used as a means of communication when riding a snowmobile for quite some time. You could say they are the grandfather of communication on the trails. They have solved the problem in a very logical way, and they have paved the “trail” for newer generations. Yet, as he is wise, he is stuck. Hand Signals are the most widely accepted form of communication, and they work on the most basic level of trail communication, but surely, that isn’t the best solution this advanced civilization can provide?
The industry has had this same conversation about hand signals for years. Ski-doo is finally doing something about it! I won’t get into those details here but a quick google search for "Skidoo LED Hand Guards" can provide some more information.
The Pros of Hand Signals
- Universality: Hand signals are a universally recognized way of communicating on the trail, regardless of language or cultural barriers. The message conveyed through hand signals is usually understood by most riders, even if they come from different backgrounds.
- Simplicity: Hand signals are easy to learn and use for both experienced and novice riders. They don't require any additional equipment to function, which eliminates the need for bulky technology solutions.
- Non-Interference: Hand signals don't require a signal or a connection to work; thus, there's no need to rely on having a network connection or a charged battery. They are a reliable and effective way of communicating without the risk of having an electronic device fail and interfering with communication.
The Cons of Hand Signals
- Limited Vocabulary: Hand signals are exclusively used to communicate how many riders are behind you, and they cannot be used to communicate more complicated messages.
- Distances and Visibility: Hand signals may not be visible in situations where there is low light, or extreme snow conditions. You are also not aware of the presence of oncoming snowmobilers until you see the first rider, in which case, the oncoming riders still may not be aware of your presence. This creates a dangerous situation if you are approaching the rider on a blind corner or hill.
- Steering: There has been a lot of controversy around removing your hands from the handlebars in order to signal oncoming riders. If you are riding at higher speeds, in poor conditions, around corners or over hills, removing your hands from the handlebars can cause you to lose control of your snowmobile, resulting in self harm, harm to the snowmobile, and potentially to other persons on the trail.
- Inaccuracy: The accuracy and understanding of hand signals may vary depending on location. For example, in my area, we use a low balled fist to signal “Last Rider” and signal 1 and up from above our heads. However, I have ridden in other areas where they signal 0-5 through low held hands. If the number of fingers is tough to see, it is easy to confuse this signal as being “Last Rider”. Gloves vs. mittens can also have an effect on the accuracy of signalling.
After reviewing, you can see that hand signals are simple and universal, however, they are not always visible, accurate or the safest option. As I said above, I think there is a better way. Let’s see if we can find it below.
Next on the list is Communicators!
Communicators are HOT right now! They are electronic devices that can be used to establish two-way communication between snowmobilers. They offer clear and immediate communication among riders without any physical signals. I’m going to be honest here, I have never used communicators, but I do ride with a couple who swears by them and wears their Sena communicators for every ride. My first thought…. I don’t want ANYONE hearing the cat-like screeching that leaves my mouth when singing along to my favorite tunes on the trails. If you are like me and can’t fathom the potential embarrassment I could be exposed to by forgetting to turn my mic off, then communicators may not be for you. HOWEVER, if you are blessed with confidence and that doesn’t bother you, I will still walk you through the pros and cons of owning communicators.
The Pro's of Communicators
Improved Communication: Communicators allow riders to communicate with their fellow riders, which can be especially useful when traveling in a group. This feature can help avoid dangerous situations and ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the route or any other pertinent information.
Increased Safety: Snowmobiling is a dangerous sport, and when out in the wilderness, riders can encounter inclement weather, technical difficulties, or accidents. Communicators can help in such situations by allowing the first rider to communicate danger to the rest of the group. *Please note, in this case the lead rider is not protected.
- Better Music Streaming: Snowmobiling can be a lonely sport, especially when riding solo. Some communicators come equipped with amazing speakers, which can allow the rider to listen to their favorite tunes or podcasts, making the ride more enjoyable.
The Con's of Communicators
Distraction from the Ride: Communicators can be a distraction from the ride, especially if the rider is spending too much time talking or listening to music. They can also be a source of irritation if the rider is not in the mood for conversation or simply wants quiet time to enjoy the ride.
Battery Life: Communicators like Sena need a constant source of power, which could potentially become a problem if the battery dies out during a long ride. Carrying extra batteries or power banks is necessary to ensure that the communicator never runs out during a ride.
- Inclement Weather: Communicators are designed for good weather and might fail in extreme weather conditions. When operating in freezing temperatures or heavy snow, the communicator's range could be significantly reduced, making it difficult to communicate or maintain a stable signal.
- Distance/Signal: Most communicators rely on Bluetooth or cell service and can lose signal in rural areas. Since almost all snowmobile trails are in rural areas, this is not an appealing quality. The communicators also have a very short range, meaning you need to stay extremely close to the other riders in your group. This can cause issues if your riders have varying skill and ability levels and want to go faster or slower.
Communicators can be a good solution for many snowmobilers. When working as intended, they provide great communication between you and your group. However, they are similar to a younger cousin. They are a cool, young solution but they are also a bit selfish. Riding with communicators helps your group, but no one else on the trail. It doesn’t allow for communication between different groups or oncoming riders. When using communicators it is still good etiquette to also use Hand Signals. Quick reminder kids, DON'T be selfish and ride with everyone in mind!
Another popular solution is Polaris Ride Command.
Technology solutions like Polaris Ride Command offer more advanced methods of communication. The integrated GPS technology allows you to plan your route, and easily follow it in busy and remote locations. They also offer an enhanced communication experience for snowmobilers including the ability to view your groups positions on their interactive trail map. The device is built into the sled, making it an excellent communication tool for snowmobilers who prefer larger screens with touchscreen capability. This device is a reliable solution for riders who only ride with other Polaris owners.
The system is not compatible with any other manufacturer, therefore, you lose the reliability of this system if you ride with friends who prefer other brands. In my opinion, this is their biggest DOWNFALL! This seems ridiculous to me since it is very rare to have a group of riders who all prefer the same brand. Polaris has Ride Command, Ski-doo has comfort, Yamaha has longevity, and Arctic Cat, well, you may still need to convince me what Arctic Cat has to offer. In my opinion, the industry's biggest downfall is how competitive everyone is. Maybe that is a discussion for another time, but whatever we decide to deem the best technology solution absolutely HAS to integrate with ALL snowmobiles. Ride command is convenient and helps keep Polaris Owners safe but they are ignoring the rest of the trail pass holders on the trails. If you are a polaris owner or want to learn more about ride command, you can review the pros and cons we have posted below. If you want to read about the newest technology on the market, skip to the next section!
Pros of Polaris Ride Command:
- Navigation: The Polaris Ride Command has a built-in GPS system that provides detailed maps and real-time location tracking to help riders navigate through unfamiliar terrain.
- User-friendly Interface: The interface of Polaris Ride Command is user-friendly, making it easy for riders to navigate and find the information they need quickly.
- Weather Updates: The system provides weather updates and alerts, helping riders stay informed and prepared for any changes in weather conditions.
Cons of Polaris Ride Command:
- Limited Connectivity: The Polaris Ride Command requires a cellular or data connection to function, so riders need to have access to a network to use the system.
- Cost: Polaris Ride Command comes at a premium cost, which can be prohibitive for some riders.
- Battery Drain: The system's GPS tracking and Bluetooth connectivity can drain the battery of the rider's device or the system quickly, which could be a significant issue if you prefer longer trips.
- Exclusivity: The benefits of Ride Command can only be enjoyed by Polaris owners, meaning if you ride with other brands, you will not be able to communicate with them, or see their position.
This brings us to HEDS UP!
HEDS UP is an industry disrupting communication device that can be mounted on riders' windshield, or handlebars. HEDS UP uses advanced technology that provides riders with real-time grouping information across all manufacturers. Connecting your HEDS UP to those in your group allows you to ride with confidence. Know that your group will be able to communicate with simple “stop requests” and “SOS” signals. Get alerted when a rider has gone out of range, and don’t be distracted by non essential communication solutions that take your eyes off the trail.
PROs of HEDS UP:
- Easy user interface: The unique user interface allows you to communicate with your group at the touch of a button (and you can keep your gloves on!)
- Convenient and quick communication: Use the SOS and Stop Request buttons to immediately alert your group that you need help or want to take a break.
- Weatherproof: The tough design is built to withstand harsh weather conditions.
- State of the art technology: Connecting riders in even the most remote locations.
- Numerical display: Numerical display shows how many riders are paired.
- Directional collision avoidance: Alerts you via LED when another sled outfitted with a HEDS UP is coming around the corner!
- No distractions: LED signals are quick to read and do not distract you from the trail.
- Battery Life: All-day rechargeable battery with the option of plugging into the AUX on your sled for longer trips!
Cons of HEDS UP:
HEDS UP is only available for pre-order. I mean, if you consider being a trendsetter a con? In my opinion HEDS UP is the future of communication in snowmobiling, but i won't ignore the fact that I may be a little biased ;)
You decide! Check out their website and decide for yourself. This could be the solution we’ve all been looking for.